Do you buy or lease computer software to use in your business? Do you develop computer software for use in your business, or for sale or lease to others? Then you should be aware of the complex rules that apply to determine the tax treatment of the expenses of buying, leasing or developing computer software.
Some software costs are deemed to be costs of “purchased” software, meaning software that’s either:
- Non-customized software available to the general public under a non-exclusive license or
- Acquired from a contractor who is at economic risk should the software not perform.
The entire cost of purchased software can be deducted in the year that it’s placed into service. The cases in which the costs are ineligible for this immediate write-off are the few instances in which 100% bonus depreciation or Section 179 small business expensing isn’t allowed or when a taxpayer has elected out of 100% bonus depreciation and hasn’t made the election to apply Sec. 179 expensing. In those cases, the costs are amortized over the three-year period beginning with the month in which the software is placed in service. Note that the bonus depreciation rate will begin to be phased down for property placed in service after calendar year 2022.
If you buy the software as part of a hardware purchase in which the price of the software isn’t separately stated, you must treat the software cost as part of the hardware cost. Therefore, you must depreciate the software under the same method and over the same period of years that you depreciate the hardware. Additionally, if you buy the software as part of your purchase of all or a substantial part of a business, the software must generally be amortized over 15 years.
You must deduct amounts you pay to rent leased software in the tax year they’re paid, if you’re a cash-method taxpayer, or the tax year for which the rentals are accrued, if you’re an accrual-method taxpayer. However, deductions aren’t generally permitted before the years to which the rentals are allocable. Also, if a lease involves total rentals of more than $250,000, special rules may apply.
Software developed by your business
Some software is deemed to be “developed” (designed in-house or by a contractor who isn’t at risk if the software doesn’t perform). For tax years beginning before calendar year 2022, bonus depreciation applies to developed software to the extent described above. If bonus depreciation doesn’t apply, the taxpayer can either deduct the development costs in the year paid or incurred or choose one of several alternative amortization periods over which to deduct the costs. For tax years beginning after calendar year 2021, generally the only allowable treatment will be to amortize the costs over the five-year period beginning with the midpoint of the tax year in which the expenditures are paid or incurred.
If following any of the above rules requires you to change your treatment of software costs, it will usually be necessary for you to obtain IRS consent to the change.
We can assist you in applying the tax rules for treating computer software costs in the way that is most advantageous for you.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
No company can afford to operate without the right accounting software. When considering whether to buy a new product or upgrade their current solutions, however, business owners often fall prey to some common mistakes. Here are five gaffes to avoid:
1. Relying on a generic solution. Some companies rush into buying an accounting system without stopping to consider all their options. Perhaps most important, they may be missing out on specific versions for their industries.
For instance, construction companies can choose from many applications with built-in features specific to how their businesses work. Nonprofit organizations also have industry-specific accounting software. If you haven’t already, check into whether a product addresses your company’s area of focus.
2. Spending too much or too little. When buying or upgrading something as important as an accounting system, it’s easy to overspend. Those bells and whistles can be enticing. Then again, frugal-minded business owners may underspend, picking up a low-end product and letting staff deal with the headaches.
The ideal approach generally lies somewhere in the middle. Perform a thorough review of your accounting needs, transaction volume and required reports, as well as your employees’ proficiency and the availability of tech support. Then calculate a reasonable budgeted amount to spend.
3. Getting stuck in a rut. Assuming you already have an accounting system, one of the keys to managing it is knowing precisely when to upgrade. You don’t want to spend money unnecessarily, but you also shouldn’t risk errors or outdated functionality by waiting too long.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Your financial statements are a potentially helpful source of information. A general rule of thumb says that, when revenues hit certain benchmarks (perhaps $5 million, $10 million or $15 million), a business may want to start thinking “upgrade.” The right tipping point depends on various factors, however.
4. Neglecting the importance of integration and mobile access. Once upon a time, a company’s accounting software was a standalone application, and data from across the company had to be manually entered into the system. But integration is the name of the game these days. You should be able to integrate your accounting system with all (or most) of your other software so that data can be shared seamlessly and securely.
Also consider the availability and functionality of mobile access to your accounting system. Many solutions now include apps that users can use on their smartphones or tablets.
5. Going it alone. Which accounting package you choose may seem an entirely internal decision. After all, you and your staff will be the ones using it, right? But you may be forgetting one rather obvious person who could help: your accountant.
We can help you assess and determine your accounting needs, set a feasible budget, choose the right solution (or upgrade) and implement it properly. Going forward, we can even periodically test your system to ensure it’s providing accurate data and generating the proper reports.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
Machine learning increasingly is being used to discover fraud schemes. With this type of artificial intelligence (AI), the technology learns or improves in accuracy through experience, rather than through additional programming. If you already use AI in your business, you’re probably somewhat familiar with how machine learning works. But here’s a quick overview of its application in fraud detection.
New approaches needed
More and more, businesses rely on digitization to deliver the goods and services their customers want. Unfortunately, digitization also makes it easier both for cybercriminals and stakeholders, such as employees, vendors and customers, to steal. Preventing fraud in the digital age requires new approaches.
Machine learning is one such approach. Traditional rules-based fraud detection software flags transactions — such as purchase orders of a certain type or over a certain amount — that are suspicious according to static rules. On the other hand, fraud detection software that includes machine learning uses large sets of historical data to “learn,” or create algorithms about the patterns associated with new fraud schemes, enabling it to detect fraud in the future.
Step by step
For a machine to learn, its users must follow certain procedures. After the software is enabled to capture historical transaction data — and the more data, the better — the company using it reviews the data to ensure it presents an accurate picture of transactions. The software then applies algorithms to identify potentially suspicious items. This process creates the first fraud detection model. The software analyzes the same set of data repeatedly and produces new models for the company to review. The company provides feedback on each model to help the software develop better algorithms.
Through this process, the model learns what constitutes fraud and the number of false positives should drop significantly. In the end, the company selects the most accurate fraud detection model to put into production.
If you have the technical capabilities, you may be able to develop a customized machine learning program for fraud detection in-house. We can help if you don’t. Contact us.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
These days, most businesses need a website to remain competitive. It’s an easy decision to set one up and maintain it. But determining the proper tax treatment for the costs involved in developing a website isn’t so easy.
That’s because the IRS hasn’t released any official guidance on these costs yet. Consequently, you must apply existing guidance on other costs to the issue of website development costs.
Hardware and software
First, let’s look at the hardware you may need to operate a website. The costs involved fall under the standard rules for depreciable equipment. Specifically, once these assets are up and running, you can deduct 100% of the cost in the first year they’re placed in service (before 2023). This favorable treatment is allowed under the 100% first-year bonus depreciation break.
In later years, you can probably deduct 100% of these costs in the year the assets are placed in service under the Section 179 first-year depreciation deduction privilege. However, Sec. 179 deductions are subject to several limitations.
For tax years beginning in 2019, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $1.02 million, subject to a phaseout rule. Under the rule, the deduction is phased out if more than a specified amount of qualified property is placed in service during the year. The threshold amount for 2019 is $2.55 million.
There’s also a taxable income limit. Under it, your Sec. 179 deduction can’t exceed your business taxable income. In other words, Sec. 179 deductions can’t create or increase an overall tax loss. However, any Sec. 179 deduction amount that you can’t immediately deduct is carried forward and can be deducted in later years (to the extent permitted by the applicable limits).
Similar rules apply to purchased off-the-shelf software. However, software license fees are treated differently from purchased software costs for tax purposes. Payments for leased or licensed software used for your website are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.
Software developed internally
If your website is primarily for advertising, you can also currently deduct internal website software development costs as ordinary and necessary business expenses.
An alternative position is that your software development costs represent currently deductible research and development costs under the tax code. To qualify for this treatment, the costs must be paid or incurred by December 31, 2022.
A more conservative approach would be to capitalize the costs of internally developed software. Then you would depreciate them over 36 months.
Third party payments
Some companies hire third parties to set up and run their websites. In general, payments to third parties are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.
Before business begins
Start-up expenses can include website development costs. Up to $5,000 of otherwise deductible expenses that are incurred before your business commences can generally be deducted in the year business commences. However, if your start-up expenses exceed $50,000, the $5,000 current deduction limit starts to be chipped away. Above this amount, you must capitalize some, or all, of your start-up expenses and amortize them over 60 months, starting with the month that business commences.
We can help
We can determine the appropriate treatment for these costs for federal income tax purposes. Contact us if you have questions or want more information.
© 2019 Covenant CPA
Like most business owners, you’ve probably been urged by industry experts and professional advisors to identify the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) for your company. So, just for the sake of discussion, let’s say you’ve done that. A natural question that often follows is: Now what? You know you’re supposed to keep an eye on these metrics every day but … how?
The right technology has you covered. There’s a specific type of software — commonly referred to as a “business dashboard” — that allows business owners to create customized views of all their chosen KPIs. And these applications don’t just lay out numbers like a spreadsheet. They provide an easy visual experience that allows you to keep your eyes on the prize: a cost-controlled, profitable company.
Business dashboards have been around for a decade or two in various forms. But today’s solutions have the advantage of being cloud-based, meaning the data driving them is typically stored on a secure server off-site. And you can access the dashboard from anywhere at any time on an authenticated device. (You can also still run a dashboard from your company’s own servers, if you prefer.)
If you’ve never used a dashboard before, you might wonder what one looks like. The name says it all. Ideally, a dashboard is a single screen of data — like the panel of gauges in your car — that displays various KPIs in the form of pie charts, bar graphs and other graphic elements.
A few must-haves
When shopping for a product, there are a few “must-haves” to insist on. The software should:
- Support your chosen KPIs,
- Present itself in a visually pleasing, logical manner that allows you to easily, intuitively follow those KPIs, and
- Update itself in real time, enabling you to react quickly to sudden swings in your company’s financial performance.
Be wary of vendors that over-promise “otherworldly” knowledge of your industry or try to upsell you on bells and whistles. The simpler the dashboard, the better. There will always be more complex financial issues regarding your business that can’t be put into simple terms on a dashboard.
Also, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is causing many to question the long-term viability of business dashboards. AI gathers and shapes data so quickly, and in such massive amounts, that some experts argue that a business owner’s chosen KPIs can rapidly become outmoded.
Nonetheless, dashboard software is still widely used in many industries. Just be prepared to regularly reassess and, if necessary, update your KPIs.
If you decide to invest in a business dashboard (or upgrade your current one), you’ll need to go about it carefully. We can help you set a budget and compare prices and functionalities to get an optimal return on investment.
© 2019 Covenant CPA
Few businesses today can afford to let potential buyers slip through the cracks. Customer relationship management (CRM) software can help you build long-term relationships with those most likely to buy your products or services. But to maximize your return on investment in one of these solutions, you and your employees must have a realistic grasp on its purpose and functionality.
Putting it all together
CRM software is designed to:
- Gather every bit and byte of data related to your customers,
- Organize that information in a clear, meaningful format, and
- Integrate itself with other systems and platforms (including social media).
Every time a customer contacts your company — or you follow up with that customer — the CRM system can record that interaction. This input enables business owners to track leads, forecast and record sales, assess the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, and evaluate other important data. It also helps companies retain valuable customer contact information, preventing confusion following staff turnover or if someone happens to be out of the office.
Furthermore, most CRM systems can remind salespeople when to make follow-up calls and prompt other employees to contact customers. For instance, an industrial cleaning company could set up its system to automatically transmit customer reminders regarding upcoming service dates.
Categorizing your contacts
Customers can be categorized by purchase history, future product or service interests, desired methods of contact, and other data points. This helps businesses reach out to customers at a good time, in the right way. When companies flood customers with too many impersonal calls, direct mail pieces or e-mails, their messaging is much more likely to be ignored.
Naturally, an important part of maintaining any CRM system is keeping customers’ contact data up to date. So, you’ll need to instruct sales or customer service staff to gently touch base on this issue at least once a year. To avoid appearing pushy, some businesses ask customers to fill out contact info cards (or request business cards) that are then entered into a drawing for a free product or service — or even just a free lunch!
A properly implemented CRM system can improve sales, lower marketing costs and build customer loyalty. But, as mentioned, you’ll need to train employees how to use the software to get these benefits. And buy-in must occur throughout the organization — a “silo approach” to CRM that focuses only on one business area won’t optimize results.
Establish thorough use of the system as an annual performance objective for sales, marketing and customer service employees. Some business owners even offer monthly prizes or bonuses to employees who consistently enter data into their CRM systems.
Making the right choice
There are many CRM solutions available today at a wide variety of price points. We can help you conduct a cost-benefit analysis of this type of software — based on your company’s size, needs and budget — to assist you in choosing whether to buy a product or, if you already have one, how best to upgrade it. Contact us today at 205-345-9898 and email@example.com.
© 2019 CovenantCPA